The hot skull that gave us Caucasians
BY ALEX BERTSCH firstname.lastname@example.org
Race is a social construct. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but I will hedge my bets and try to explain it anyway. In brief, the concept of race was invented in the colonial period as a way to justify economic exploitation and to sew racial divides into lower classes. Despite the common misconception that race is somehow genetic, it is more likely for there to be genetic diversity between any two people from Africa, than between any white person and Asian person. If you would like to learn more about the construction of race, here is a playlist of videos I recommend.
Now that we’ve gotten that boring race stuff out of the way, we can get to the fun. More specifically, I can start to tell you about the weird race scientist and his very sexy skull.
Johannes Friedrich Blumenbach was a … “scientist?” He didn’t really do scientific experiments, and just sort of made it up as he went, but you could call his work … vaguely science-y.
Johannes was big into skulls. He thought skulls were so cool he decided to use them in order to categorize people by race. Johannes was one of many “scientists” at the time who believed in monogenesis, or the idea that all of the human race was descended from Adam and Eve, and that the differences in people came from degeneration, which created the races. The evidence that he provided for these claims was that people from different places look different, and the Bible says that Adam and Eve were the first people, and they probably looked like him, so that meant that the other people had degenerated somehow. For this brilliant thesis, he was acclaimed by his peers and colleagues.
In his writing on this research, Johannes had to come up with names for the races. Most of these came from where the people were supposedly from, although each race was assigned a skin color, which seems weird since Johannes claimed he was basing these categories on skulls, which, in case you didn’t know, don’t have skin colors.
Anyway, Johannes is struggling to come up with a name for the “white” race. He doesn’t want to call them Europeans, because there are some people outside of Europe that he wants to include, primarily Jesus. Being way too into skulls, Johannes has a skull collection, and in his skull collection is the skull of a young Georgian woman. Johannes thinks this is the most beautiful skull he has ever seen, and therefore her people must be the most beautiful people in the world. Since the “white” race is the most beautiful race in his mind, he decides to name the “white” race after the skull. He calls them Caucasians, a term that up until this point had only referred to people from the area around the Caucasus Mountains.
Of course, this usage would stick around, and still today the word Caucasians is used to refer to white people, whether they come from the region of the Caucasus Mountains or not. So remember this the next time you identify yourself or someone else as Caucasian: the only reason you’re doing so is because a race scientist in the 19th century named this race after a skull he really wanted to make out with.